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June 23, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

Watch Ukrainian troops fire US-supplied M777 Howitzers on Russian positions

What we covered

  • European Union leaders have agreed to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status for EU membership.
  • Russian forces have taken two more settlements near the strategic city of Lysychansk in their offensive to capture the remainder of the eastern Luhansk region, according to Ukrainian officials.
  • Ukraine’s forces control about 45% of the eastern Donetsk region, a regional military chief said, adding that more than a hundred cities and villages there had no gas or electricity.
  • President Vladimir Putin said Russia is rerouting trade to “reliable international partners” such as Brazil, India, China and South Africa as the West attempts to sever economic ties, during his video address to the virtual BRICS Summit.
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EU candidates "have to do homework" before moving to the next stage, commission president says

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen talks to media in Brussels, on Thursday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that European Union candidate countries have “homework” to do before the next stage of the of the accession process.

Speaking during a short press conference alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and European Council President Charles Michel following EU’s decision to grant Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status, she said:

“The countries all have to do homework before moving to the next stage of the accession process but I am convinced that they will all move as swiftly as possible and work as hard as possible to implement the necessary reforms.”

She added that today’s decision strengthens Ukraine and Moldova, plus Georgia — which the EU is ready to grant candidate status once the outstanding priorities are addressed — “in the face of Russian aggression and it strengthens the European Union because it shows once again to the world that the European Union is united and strong in the face of external threats”

“It’s a very strong message which is being sent out. A message of unity, of determination in political terms,” Michel added.

EU says it will "swiftly work on a further increase of military support" to Ukraine

The EU says it will “swiftly” work on increasing military support to Ukraine and will work on further financial assistance.

In a news release following the first day of the two-day EU Summit, the European Council said, “The European Union remains strongly committed to providing further military support to help Ukraine exercise its inherent right of self-defence against the Russian aggression and defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty. To this end, the European Council calls on the Council to swiftly work on a further increase of military support.”

The European Council also urged Russia to “immediately stop targeting agricultural facilities and removing cereals, and to unblock the Black Sea, in particular the port of Odesa, so as to allow the export of grain and commercial shipping operations,” blaming Russia for the global food security crisis.

“Russia, by weaponising food in its war against Ukraine, is solely responsible for the global food security crisis it has provoked,” it said.

The European Council also condemned “Russia’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure,” adding that “international humanitarian law, including on the treatment of prisoners of war, must be respected.”

“Russia, Belarus and all those responsible for war crimes and the other most serious crimes will be held to account for their actions, in accordance with international law,” it said.

Zelensky: "This is a victory. We waited 120 days and 30 years" for EU candidate status

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called the European Council decision to grant Ukraine candidate status a “victory.”

In a video posted on Instagram immediately after the announcement, he said:

“We have just received the candidacy. This is a victory we had waited for 120 days and 30 years. After that we will defeat the enemy and get some rest. Or maybe we shall rebuild Ukraine first and get some rest afterwards.”

Zelensky added, “And maybe shall will even win, rebuild, join the EU and then rest. Or maybe we won’t be getting rest. Though children would disagree with that. But we will definitely win.”

French President Macron says today's decision sends "a strong signal to Russia"

French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen attend a press conference in Brussels on June 23.

Speaking at a news conference alongside European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, French President Macron said that today’s decision to grant Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status sends “a strong signal to Russia.”

“The message that is sent today very clearly and we just saw it with President Zelensky. It’s a very strong message, coherent with what our Europe since day one of the conflict has known to do. Which is: reacting swiftly, in a historic way and united. Through sanctions, two days later and six times since then. Through macroeconomic, military and financial support to Ukraine. And now through this political gesture,” Macron said.

“This strong united Europe has been up to the task,” he added.

“More broadly today, it’s a European perspective that we recognize to Ukraine, Moldavia and Georgia. Which is a very strong signal to Russia and in the geopolitical context we mentioned and the choice made for Ukraine and Moldavia to be granted this candidate status to the European Union,” he added.

“We owed this to the Ukrainian people which is fighting to defend our values, their sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we also owed it to Moldavia regarding its political situation, of the destabilization attempts it is experiencing, and the generosity it showed in the context we just mentioned,” he said.

Here's what EU leaders are saying about the decision to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova

Various European leaders immediately reacted to the European Council’s decision to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status. 

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter: “Very pleased with the Leaders’ endorsement of our Opinions. [Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia] all have work to do before moving to the next stage of the process. I know that they will move swiftly. They know how crucial this is for their democracies, their economies and their citizens.”

“This decision strengthens us all. It strengthens Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, in the face of Russian imperialism. And it strengthens the EU. Because it shows once again to the world that we are united and strong in the face of external threats,” she added.

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said, “On the right side of history. Congratulations to the people of Ukraine and Moldova. Today we gave hope. For freedom, for democracy, for our future.”

“This is #Europe’s moment,” she added.

EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell said the decision “marked the beginning of a long journey that we will walk together,” and said “Ukraine will prevail. Europe will prevail.”

“The Ukrainian people belong to the European family. Ukraine’s future is with the EU,” he added.

Meanwhile, Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said, “Today [the European Commission] took a historic decision to grant the #EU candidate state status to Ukraine and Moldova. It is the next step in their European dream. We will be side by side with you in the further European integration process - supporting and sharing our experience.”

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda called it a “big victory for Ukraine and for the European Union!” and a “very important and timely decision.”

And Romanian President Klaus Iohannis called it “a historic achievement” and a decision that “brings hope and trust in the EU future for the people of these countries and great responsibility for their leaders.”

Zelensky says EU leaders' decision to grant Ukraine EU candidate status is "unique and historical"

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine on June 11.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he commends the European Council’s decision to grant Ukraine candidate status to join the European Union. 

Quoting European Council President Charles Michel’s tweet announcing the decision, Zelensky said it is “a unique and historical moment” in relations between the European Union and Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also tweeted that “Ukraine will prevail. Europe will prevail.”

His tweet, accompanied by a short video with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, said: “Today marks the beginning of a long journey that we will walk together. The Ukrainian people belong to the European family. Ukraine’s future is with the EU. We stand together for peace.”

JUST IN: EU decides to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Saturday, June 11.

European Union leaders have agreed to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status.

“Agreement. #EUCO has just decided EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. A historic moment,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Twitter.

“Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU,” he added, congratulating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and President of Moldova Maia Sandu as well as the people of Ukraine and Moldova.

The European Council has decided “to recognize the European perspective of Georgia and is ready to grant candidate status once the outstanding priorities are addressed,” Michel added.

UK says it can assist with de-mining operation around Ukraine's Black Sea coast to release food supplies

The United Kingdom is willing to assist with a de-mining operation around Ukraine’s Black Sea coast in order to free food supplies, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday.

“I don’t want to get into the technical or military details, but you can take it from what we have already done in supplying equipment to the Ukrainians to help to protect themselves that we are certainly talking to them about what we can do at a technical level to help de-mine Odesa,” Johnson said, speaking to Reuters from Kigali, Rwanda, during an official visit.

”[Russian President] Putin is holding 23 million tons of grain to ransom. It is absolutely unconscionable. That supply could help people around the world, it could help some of the poorest countries in the world. What I am trying to argue is, I’m trying to say is it is not, it won’t necessarily be decisive but it can make a big difference,” he added.

Some context: International leaders have condemned Russia’s blockade of Black Sea ports, which the United Nations said could lead to millions experiencing famine or famine-like conditions around the globe. Satellite images have also shown what appear to be Russian ships taking stolen grain from Crimea to a port in Syria.

Earlier Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the crisis would have already been resolved if Ukraine and Western allies de-mined the ports.

“There is a job of work to be done. We are working with the Turks, with other European friends and allies to see what we can do. I think what the UK possibly has to offer, most of all, is expertise when it comes to maritime insurance, and a lot of expertise in moving goods through should we say contested areas of the sea,” Johnson also said.

BRICS countries — which include Russia — support Ukraine-Russia talks in joint declaration

BRICS countries said they support talks between Russia and Ukraine in a joint statement published on the Kremlin’s website on Thursday.

The BRICS countries include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

“We have discussed the situation in Ukraine and recall our national positions as expressed at the appropriate fora, namely the UN [Security Council] and UN [General Assembly]. We support talks between Russia and Ukraine,” the statement read.

“We have also discussed our concerns over the humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine and expressed our support to efforts of the UN Secretary-General, UN Agencies and ICRC to provide humanitarian assistance in accordance with the basic principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality established in UN General Assembly resolution 46/182,” they added.

The BRICS summit, hosted by Beijing, marks Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first international forum with other heads of major economies since he launched his invasion in Ukraine back in February. 

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has indicated that he was willing to hold direct talks with Putin.

"There is no safe place" in the Ukrainian town of Lysychansk, military official says

A man walks in front of damaged building in Lysychansk on June 21.

“There is no safe place” left in the Ukrainian town of Lysychansk, Serhiy Haidai said on Thursday.

The “whole of Lysychansk is being shelled with large calibre and air strikes,” said Haidai, the head of the Luhansk region military administration of the Ukrainian army.  

Authorities continue to evacuate civilians and deliver humanitarian aid, he added.

EU summit to discuss Ukraine's membership application begins in Brussels

European Union leaders gather for a summit in Brussels on June 23.

The European Union summit to discuss whether to grant candidate status to Ukraine has begun in Brussels.

All 27 EU leaders are meeting today and tomorrow to discuss EU membership applications from Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia as well as current economic issues the EU is facing.

Last Friday, the European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen announced the Commission’s opinion to recommend Ukraine as a member state in the EU, stating that Ukrainians are “ready to die” for the European perspective. 

On arrival, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte commended the European Commission’s “thorough assessment” of Ukraine’s application to join the European Union. 

“The worry we had was that the Commission would rush into candidate states. I must say that Ursula Von der Leyen came up with a very balanced outcome of talks with Zelensky … I must say, I was mistaken. They really gave us a very thorough and fair assessment,” Rutte remarked on Thursday.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also told reporters that this decision will also serve as “an appeal to achieve progress in the perspective of the countries of the Western Balkans,” saying Germany will “actively support” efforts to help the nations of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro , Kosovo and Serbia to implement an accession perspective soon.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda told reporters that displays of political support for Ukraine are “very important for the fighting spirit of Ukrainians,” calling his country a “keen supporter of the candidate status for Ukraine.”

Gas supply in EU is "guaranteed" but the situation remains serious, EU Commission says

An worker walks through the above-ground facilities of a natural gas storage facility at the Uniper Energy Storage facility in Bierwang, Germany, on June 10.

Gas supply in the European Union is “currently guaranteed” but the situation is “to be taken seriously,” the EU Commission says.

“According to our exchange with the national authorities, the gas security of supply in Germany – and in the EU – is currently guaranteed. Lower inflows of gas from Russia can so far be compensated,” an EU Commission spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

However, “the situation is to be taken seriously,” it added.

“At this stage, we need to be aware that the situation could deteriorate further. Early Warning Declarations, which constitute the first level of warning foreseen in the SoS Regulation, have been made by nine other EU Member States over the past months, against the backdrop of Russia’s continued use of its gas supplies as a tool for blackmail,” the spokesperson added.

This comes as Germany further raised its warning level on gas supplies on Thursday, following a previous declaration of the Early Warning level. According to the EU Commission, Germany discussed the situation with the Commission and the move is part of the EU’s coordinated action on the matter.

“The risk of full gas disruption is now more real than ever before. That is why, the adoption of the gas storage regulation together with other preparedness measures is so important at this moment,” EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.

Norway to step up cooperation with EU to ensure additional gas supplies

The European Union and Norway agreed on Thursday to further strengthen their cooperation in the energy field, providing the EU with additional gas supplies, Norway’s oil and energy ministry said.

“We had a good and constructive meeting, where we agreed to cooperate even closer on energy. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made closer cooperation necessary,” said Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Terje Aasland.

Some background: Europe’s energy crisis escalated this month as Russia further reduced supplies to Germany, Italy and other members of the European Union. Twelve EU countries have so far been affected by Russian gas supply cuts, the bloc’s climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said on Thursday.

Russia’s state gas company Gazprom slashed flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 60% last week, blaming the move on the West’s decision to withhold vital turbines because of sanctions. Italian energy giant ENI said Gazprom was cutting its supplies by 15%.

A joint statement from the EU and Norway noted that “Norway’s oil and gas production for European energy security has increased further after Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

According to the statement, Norway currently delivers approximately one-fourth of EU countries’ gas consumption and is producing gas “at very high capacity.”

Russian defense minister calls for strengthened Russia-Belarus joint defense

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, speaks with his Belarus counterpart Viktor Khrenin in Minsk on February 3.

The Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu on Thursday called to strengthen the joint defense capabilities of Russia and Belarus, including a unified regional air defense system.

“Circumstances dictate the need to take urgent joint measures to strengthen the defense capability of the Union State, increase the combat readiness of the regional grouping of troops and the unified regional air defense system,” he said at a meeting with Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin in Moscow.

Shoigu also called Belarus to be Russia’s closest friend. 

Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is the only leader in Europe to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Belarusian border with Ukraine was used as part of the invasion by Russian troops. 

Biden administration is expected to announce additional military assistance for Ukraine as soon as today

The Biden administration is expected to publicly announce another round of military assistance for Ukraine as soon as today, according to a US official familiar.

The package is expected to include additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) as well as artillery ammunition. The package is expected to total no more than approximately $500 million, the source said.

The White House said they don’t have anything to preview at this time but has stated that the Biden administration has said the US will continue to regularly provide security assistance to Ukraine.

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.

Nike announces a full exit from Russia

A woman walks into a Nike store in a shopping mall in Moscow, Russia, on May 30.

American sportswear firm Nike is leaving Russia.

“NIKE, Inc. has made the decision to leave the Russian marketplace. Our priority is to ensure we are fully supporting our employees while we responsibly scale down our operations over the coming months,” it said in an emailed statement to CNN.

Nike’s withdrawal from the Russian market was also shared in its official Russian website. 

The withdrawal means that along with stores shutting down, the company’s website and mobile app will no longer be available in the country, it added.

In early March, Nike suspended online and franchised store sales in Russia, but its non-franchised stores continued to work.

Many other American companies announced similar decisions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. Starbucks and McDonald’s, for example, had made similar decisions earlier. Several auto, finance, energy and other companies have also announced different levels of changes, pauses or halts in operations in Russia.

Situation in Severodonetsk "difficult" but "stable," Ukrainian military says

A Ukrainian service member looks on in the industrial area of the city of Severodonetsk, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, on June 20.

The Ukrainian military said the situation in the city of Severodonetsk is “difficult” but “stable,” according to Oleksii Hromov, the deputy head of the Main Operations Directorate of Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“As of now, the situation is difficult, stable, the fighting is ongoing,” Hromov told journalists in a briefing Thursday. 

“Our servicemen have weapons at their disposal and are supported by artillery units, but unfortunately the enemy has the fire advantage,” he said. “[Russia] has enough artillery systems, enough munition, they inflict massive fire strikes, but our servicemen skillfully maneuver among the fortified positions.”

Hromov conceded that Russia had damaged Ukraine’s supply routes into the city, but he said military leadership had found alternative ways to send ammunition in and bring out the wounded. 

Russian forces learning from mistakes earlier in war as they pummel eastern Ukraine, US officials say

Russian forces are gaining an advantage in eastern Ukraine as they learn from mistakes made during the earlier stages of their invasion of the country, including better coordinating air and ground attacks and improving logistics and supply lines, two US officials with direct knowledge of US intelligence assessments told CNN.

The US does not expect new weapons systems recently supplied to Ukrainian forces, including the HIMARS multiple rocket launch system, to immediately change the situation on the battlefield in part because those systems are so far being sent with both a limited range and a limited number of rockets to ensure they are not fired into Russian territory. Additionally, Russian forces have been able to destroy some of the new Western-supplied weapons, including M777 howitzers, in targeted attacks.

The US assessments, which increasingly envision a long and punishing battle in eastern Ukraine, come as the months-long war there has reached a pivotal moment in recent days. Ukraine’s military has been burning through Soviet-era ammunition that fits older systems, and Western governments are facing a tough decision on whether they want to continue increasing their assistance to the country.

The US assessments paint a dismal image of the future of the war, with high personnel and equipment losses on both sides. US officials believe that Russian forces plan to maintain intense attacks in the east, characterized by heavy artillery and missile strikes, with the intention of wearing down Ukrainian forces and NATO resolve over time.

Russia’s advancements were brought into plain view in recent days after Ukraine’s defense of Lysychansk – the last city in the Luhansk region it still holds – became a lot more tenuous. In the last couple of days, Russians have advanced into several villages south of Lysychansk, though not without sustaining losses from Ukrainian artillery fire.

Read the full story here.

Celebrity chef Rachael Ray: Keep Ukraine in mind because they are defending "democracy for all of us"

Celebrity chef Rachael Ray is helping deliver aid in Lviv, Ukraine, because she said she felt it was a “moral imperative.”

“They’re defending democracy. They’re defending the free world,” she told CNN. “I was possessed with coming here. I thought it was a moral imperative.”

She described going around different parts of Ukraine.

“I’ve been to the bus terminals and train stations and seen the faces of people that walk up to 11 days with dogs and their children and get on buses with what’s left of their lives — professionals that had full beautiful lives, and all they wanted to be was free, and their lives are in bags,” she said while sitting in a classroom at an orphanage in Lviv.

Ray said she brought necessary first aid, thousands of toys for kids and treats for dogs and cats in shelters.

Her hope, she told CNN, is to keep the conversation about Ukraine alive.

“We have so much going on in our country now, in the US, that is distracting us and tearing us apart. We have to keep [Ukraine] at the forefront. Because these folks are giving up everything in their lives to defend democracy for all of us. And we can be mindful and donate a little or a lot, our time or just share the work that they are doing,” she said.

More than half of cities in Ukraine's Donetsk region are under Russian control

People clean up outside a damaged residential building located in in Donetsk, Ukraine, on June 20.

Just 45% of the region of Donetsk are under the control of Ukrainian forces, leaving the other 55% under Russian control.

“It is very difficult to say the rest [of the cities/territories in Donetsk] are controlled by the enemy, because these cities are being destroyed by the enemy — they are just territories,” Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk region military administration, said Thursday.

Kyrylenko also spoke about a concentration of battalion tactical groups in the Sloviansk and Lyman. 

Ukrainian forces have “serious battles ahead,” he said, adding that a continuation of shelling along the Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway is underway to “cut off” Severodonetsk and Lysychansk from supplies. 

It's mid-afternoon in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

A two-day summit is underway in Brussels with European Union leaders meeting to decide whether to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine. The question of whether or not Ukraine should join the bloc, and how Russia would react has been a contentious issue for years. 

Here are the latest headlines on Russia’s war on Ukraine:

  • The EU question: The heads of the 27 existing members are now debating Ukraine’s bid to join the EU. Earlier today, the European Parliament adopted a resolution by 529 votes to 45 calling on the leaders to approve Ukraine’s candidate status “without delay.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Thursday that EU membership is his country’s “choice of our future vision.” 
  • Russian gas cuts: Twelve EU countries have now been affected by Russian gas disruptions since the invasion of Ukraine. Speaking in European Parliament on Thursday, EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans said “Russia has weaponized energy,” although Russia blames technical issues. The affected countries are: Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia. German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said today that “gas is from now on in short supply in Germany,” and the country is currently “in an economic confrontation with Russia.”
  • Battle for Luhansk: Russian forces have captured ground around Lysychansk, the last city in the eastern Luhansk region still controlled by Ukraine, as they step up their bombardment of the area. Adviser to the Ukrainian President’s Office Oleksiy Arestovych said on national television that “the fight for Lysychansk and Severodonetsk has entered its climax.”
  • Attack on multiple fronts: Ukrainian defense forces are under heavy munition attacks across various regions, which are also causing civilian casualties and deaths. In the north-eastern Sumy region at least four districts were hit Thursday by cross-border shelling. In Donetsk to the east, where Ukraine controls less than half the region, several areas came under fire including the cities of Sloviansk and Bakhmut. In the south of Ukraine, Mykolaiv and Odesa were hit by cruise missiles, while villages along the Kherson-Mykolaiv border in the south have faced constant bombardment.
  • Kaliningrad tensions: Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said Russian claims of a rail blockade of its territorial outpost in Kaliningrad are a “lie.” Lithuania, she said, “is complying with the sanctions imposed by the [European Union] on Russia,” adding that necessary goods like food and medicine are still being transported to the exclave. Read more on Kaliningrad here.

Rocket launch system from US arrives in Ukraine

High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) from the United States have arrived in Ukraine, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Thursday.

“HIMARS have arrived to Ukraine. Thank you to my 🇺🇲 colleague and friend @SecDef Lloyd J. Austin III for these powerful tools,” Reznikov tweeted.

CNN could not independently verify if or when the HIMARS had entered the country or if they were already being used in the battlefield.

The HIMARS is a Multiple Launch Rocket System developed for the US Army in the 1970s. It carries a preloaded pod of six 227mm guided missiles, or one pod loaded with a tactical missile.

Both Russia and Ukraine already operate MLRS systems but the six-rocket HIMARS version being sent to help Kyiv is more advanced, with superior range and precision.

Ukraine has asked for around 300 of these systems. To date, the US has only donated four HIMARS to Ukraine, but hasn’t ruled out providing more in the future.

Separately, Germany will send three such systems to Ukraine, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Wednesday.

Russian cruise missiles strike southern cities, says Ukrainian military

Russian cruise missiles targeted southern Ukraine on Thursday, according to the Ukrainian military’s operational command for that part of the country.

In Mykolaiv, three surface-to-air cruise missiles launched from occupied Kherson struck targets in the city.

The port city of Odesa was also targeted by two cruise missiles, the Ukrainian military said, adding that those missiles were shot down by the country’s air defenses.

European Parliament urges EU leaders to grant candidate status to Ukraine "without delay"

Western Balkans countries leaders and EU leaders pose for a picture at a European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, on June 23.

The European Parliament has adopted a resolution by 529 votes to 45 calling on European Union leaders to approve Ukraine’s status as an EU candidate country “without delay.”

The vote – held at a European Council meeting taking place in Brussels on Thursday and Friday – also called on leaders to grant candidate status to Moldova and the same to Georgia “once its government has delivered” on a set of political and social reforms established by the European Commission.

The non-binding resolution says that granting Ukraine candidate status would “send a clear political message, affirming that the countries concerned have made the irrevocable choice of a European path.”

In the resolution, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) said granting candidate status would also allow the EU to remain a “reliable partner and a credible geopolitical player, which lives up to its principles and values,” and would show “solidarity with those who defend the same ideals.”

MEPs said there was “no ‘fast-track’ for EU membership” and accession to becoming a full EU country “remains a merit-based and structured process which requires the fulfilment of the EU membership criteria and is dependent on the effective implementation of reforms” as well as transposing all EU law – the acquis – into domestic law.

Lawmakers also called on the Ukrainian and Moldovan governments to “unambiguously demonstrate their political determination to implement the European ambitions of their people,” and to “significantly enhancing progress with substantial reforms in order to effectively fulfil the criteria for EU membership as soon as possible.”

Moscow says there's "no hidden agenda" in cuts to gas supplies

A worker walks underneath a raised section of pipework at the compressor station in Ihtiman, Bulgaria, on June 15.

Cuts in Russian gas supplies to Europe are explained by technical issues with turbines, rather than political reasons, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday, adding there was “no hidden agenda.”

Russia remains a reliable gas supplier and strictly fulfils all its obligations, Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call.

However, issues with the maintenance of Gazprom turbines in Europe have caused lower supplies, he added. “It’s strange to drag politics into everything,” Peskov also said.

Russia’s state energy giant Gazprom cut flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 60% last week, blaming the move on Europe decision to withhold vital turbines due to sanctions. 

Europe has been widely affected by Russia limiting its gas deliveries. On Thursday, Germany declared the second phase of its three-stage emergency plan for natural gas supplies. German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said “gas is from now on in short supply in Germany,” and the country is currently “in an economic confrontation with Russia.”

Armored vehicles donated by Australia are now en-route to Ukraine

The first batch of 14 Australian M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers donated to Ukraine is already en-route, the country’s ambassador to Kyiv said Thursday.

“Australia has committed over [Australian] $285 million ($196 million) in military assistance to Ukraine to support [the Ukrainian military] counter Russia’s illegal invasion,” Ambassador Bruce Edwards tweeted on Thursday. “The first batch of M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers departed Australia last week.”

The Australian government’s military assistance package consists of Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles, M777 Howitzers, anti-armor weapons, ammunition, unmanned aerial systems and a range of personal equipment.

Russian foreign minister blames Kyiv for grain crisis